1: Starting Over

1: Starting Over

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

Starting Over

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.

~Mignon McLaughlin

“This is it,” said my husband as we pulled up in front of a funky, little house with a couch on the front porch. My heart sank, but I didn’t voice my disappointment. We’d just sold a beautiful two-story home in a city an hour away. Now we were going to live in the college town where my husband had a new job teaching military history at the university. This funky, little house was a rental with four college boys moving out so we could move in.

“It’s nice of them to leave that couch for us,” I said, thinking how our three small children would look jumping on that broken down thing for all the neighbors to see. With my husband in the Army, we’d lived in a lot of different places in the past twelve years, but never had living room furniture decorated the front porch of any of our homes.

“The couch will be gone by the time our stuff gets here.” My husband pointed to a nearby park. “We can walk the kids down there every night to play. I’ll be home for dinner now. Won’t that be great?”

I swallowed hard. I wasn’t sure I wanted my husband home every night. I wasn’t sure I wanted him home at all. For years, he’d been a helicopter pilot away on missions. This new ROTC job was my husband’s attempt to restore our marriage. I’d been trying to leave him for a year. I just couldn’t take being married to a military pilot. And when he was home, we fought because I didn’t trust him. Our children were the only thing holding us together. That, and the hope perhaps we could start over again in this rental within walking distance of my husband’s new job.

When we moved in, I didn’t care much about the rental, although I did clean it like a mad woman, realizing we’d now be living with bugs, mice, and perhaps a raccoon once we settled into this rattrap place (literally, I placed traps everywhere). My husband put a foos-ball table in the living room. Each night he and the kids banged up a storm on that table, laughing and loving being together while I plugged my ears and prayed that God would restore our marriage and help me like this dirty old house and that foosball table in our living room.

When my mother-in-law came to visit she was horrified by our move. “How could you sell your beautiful house for this place?” She looked around at the battered rental, the jungle in the back yard, and threw up her hands. “You must really love my son to move here for him.”

I kept my mouth shut since I wasn’t feeling love. This was something new I was learning. To give thanks for a roof over my head, and three little kids safe in their beds, children so happy to have their dad home every night to play with them before bedtime.

“This house isn’t so bad,” my husband said a few weeks into our new life. “If we cleaned up the back yard we could sit out there around a fire pit. The kids could make s’mores and we could talk and share a glass of wine.” My husband’s blue eyes sparkled with longing.

“We could have kept that couch and put it out there too. The kids and the critters would have liked that in this crazy yard.”

My husband laughed and I thought how handsome he looked at that moment. After several weeks, my heart was softening towards him and this place. “How about we put the foosball table out in the back yard? You guys make a ton of noise playing that game at night in the house.”

“I like it in the living room,” my husband said. “It’s a lot better than zoning out in front of the TV. Besides, we can’t play in the dark. It would be dark out there at night.”

“Tarzan might join you out there,” I said, looking at all the lush green vines covering the backyard trees and the forest of weeds that had once been a lawn.

“We’ll work on the yard this weekend,” said my husband.

Within a month, we were sitting in the yard circled around a fire pit as a family. We nearly had a lawn now and I’d picked out a spot to plant a small garden. I’d left my job working for a newspaper in our old town. Now, with only our three-year-old son at home with me and our two older girls in school, I was ready to put my hand to the plow. Any plow. But I decided not to work outside our home because my heart was coming home, and that’s where I wanted to be even though this home didn’t belong to us. Thank goodness this house didn’t belong to us! I couldn’t imagine the money it would take to fix it up and get all the bugs and rodents out, but our family was healing here.

Cleaning up that yard, and then growing a garden in a corner of it, my first garden ever, made me love that funky, little rental all the more. I also loved watching my husband become the dad I never realized he could be. The husband I never realized he could be. I also made going to church a priority, and God seemed to be answering all those prayers, because I was falling in love with my husband all over again.

And then September 11th happened and I thought I’d lose him to war. Yet, the Army allowed him to stay at the university teaching cadets instead of sticking him back in the cockpit of a Black Hawk helicopter. I cried when my husband’s cadets graduated from the university and were sent into battle, and I cried when my husband arrived home safely every night. I cried because I was crazy in love with him again, and I really liked our rental house now. I was so grateful my husband wasn’t in a Black Hawk on the battlefield. I loved walking to the park with my family, and I loved sitting around our fire pit in the back yard. I loved listening to my husband and our children laughing in the living room as they beat the foosball table to death.

That rental wasn’t much to look at, and I never succeeded in trapping all the critters scurrying through it night and day (once a mouse ran over my slipper as I ate breakfast at the kitchen table), but that funky, little house became our home. The place where our family started over and the war in Afghanistan passed us by. A baby was born to us there, too, before we moved on to buy another beautiful home. That baby was the first of four more sons we would have!

~Paula Bicknell

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